IoS book review: Gun Machine, By Warren Ellis

A cop with your throat in his sights

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The Independent Culture

It begins with a murder and a traumatised Manhattan cop, before expanding into a hunt for a serial killer and a race against time. So far, so standard police procedural. Except Warren Ellis is not an author who suffers conventional linear plot threads, instead preferring to curve your brain meat around hidden details and behind coincidences. And best of all, he never underestimates the reader's intelligence.

Ellis is most well-known for creating comics masterpieces including Transmetropolitan and Fell, as well as for his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, but the writer's latest triumph has already been snapped up for a US television series. And deservedly so: the vivid descriptions and electric prose provide a truly immersive experience, with just a touch of dark fantasy and an eclectic cast of characters who behave like real people rather than cardboard soap stars.

When our lead character, Detective John Tallow, smashes through a wall to find an apartment of guns – hundreds of guns that have all killed – a mountain of unsolved cases suddenly meld into one. Flicking between Tallow and the monstrous gun collector, the narrative is much like the room of guns itself, with its cascading patterns rushing across the floor and up the walls, with spaces for future kill weapons and a story told in knots and whorls. Tallow circles around the case, chance meetings and remembered history closing the distance, while the hunter and his keen delusional observations start to fill in the gaps; the furious pace relentless as we and Tallow reach our goal.

Tallow's cohorts are wonderfully fleshed out, each easily capable of stepping into the central narrative. As with all of Ellis's works, this is no male-dominated world either, with women appearing as often as they do in the real world. Most importantly, Tallow makes his realisations and advancements at the same moments as his reader. There is no tiresome wait for a central character to realise what is really going on. Praise be.

Crooked Little Vein was a great little book, a real filthy bastard of a story that flew somewhat under the radar, perhaps due to its embrace of the weird. Gun Machine sees Ellis grab hold of the mainstream by its windpipe and demand acceptance; a perfectly flawless crime book with a feral glint in its eye.